The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport

18404173

They were the Princess Dianas of their day—perhaps the most photographed and talked about young royals of the early twentieth century. The four captivating Russian Grand Duchesses—Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanov—were much admired for their happy dispositions, their looks, the clothes they wore and their privileged lifestyle.

Over the years, the story of the four Romanov sisters and their tragic end in a basement at Ekaterinburg in 1918 has clouded our view of them, leading to a mass of sentimental and idealized hagiography. With this treasure trove of diaries and letters from the grand duchesses to their friends and family, we learn that they were intelligent, sensitive and perceptive witnesses to the dark turmoil within their immediate family and the ominous approach of the Russian Revolution, the nightmare that would sweep their world away, and them along with it.

The Romanov Sisters sets out to capture the joy as well as the insecurities and poignancy of those young lives against the backdrop of the dying days of late Imperial Russia, World War I and the Russian Revolution. Rappaport aims to present a new and challenging take on the story, drawing extensively on previously unseen or unpublished letters, diaries and archival sources, as well as private collections. It is a book that will surprise people, even aficionados

—                         —                         —

I listened to this audiobook on the advice of my friend, Ewa, who has been talking about it since Christmas. And I am using it as one of the categories on my 2018 Reading Challenge 🙂

The Romanov Sisters is a clearly written and detailed account of the lives of the four sisters and the little Tsesarevich from the time of their births until their deaths during the Russian Revolution.

Listening to their story changed many of the perceptions that I had – and clued me in to how many of those stemmed from the Disney film Anastasia – but also created duelling portrayals of Tsar Nicholas II in my mind.

Nicholas II and Alexandra lived rather modest lives in terms of possessions. Their daughters shared bedrooms with single size beds, and were not over-run with presents, although what they did have was of very high quality. Alexandra was much more heavily involved in her children’s upbringing than was common among the aristocracy of Europe at the time, even breastfeeding her children which was unheard of. The main theme throughout the entire book is the deep love shared between these seven people, and it is tragic that it eventually led to their deaths.

The Imperial Family was not well suited to governing the country. Nicholas and Alexandra would have been far more content to remain minor royalty and retreat into a quiet, idyllic life with their children than to be on the international stage. Their love for each other and their family led them to make many decisions that sacrificed image, popularity and power in Russia, further destabilizing an already tumultuous autocracy. Their ends certainly indicate the necessity of Royalty to remain visible and (at least somewhat) accessible to the masses, even at the sacrifice of privacy at times.

The last Tsar of Russia was pious, deeply religious and professed a deep and unfaltering love for his wife and children. Many accounts point to his being a moral man who was just unsuited to ruling. And yet, he showed little understanding of, or compassion for, his suffering peasantry and is the man behind mass jailing of political dissidents, pogroms and Bloody Sunday.

Whatever decision Empress Alexandra made, it was the wrong one. She was either too formal and withdrawn from the Russian people; too heavily involved in raising her children; too pious; too unwilling to open herself up to the innate mysticism of Russian orthodoxy and everyday life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Russian culture, yet too willing to accept the mystical and mistrusted Rasputin into her inner circle. During WWI, when she and her eldest daughters became nurses and worked daily in hospital with wounded soldiers, many considered it sacrilegious and a betrayal of Russian Imperialism for the Tsarina and Grand Duchesses to be working so closely with those of lower stations in improper circumstances.

The environment was poisonous and it is hard to imagine whether there could have been any other outcome for Russian Imperialism, even if Nicholas and Alexandra did everything differently.

* * * *

xx

Advertisements

Hostage (Criminals and Captives #2)

hostag

I NEVER KNEW WHEN HE’D COME TO ME. ONLY THAT HE WOULD.

I’d never even kissed a boy the night I met Stone. The night I saw him kill. The night he spared my life. That was only the beginning.

He turns up in my car again and again, dangerous and full of raw power. “Drive,” he tells me, and I have no choice. He’s a criminal with burning green eyes, invading my life and my dreams.

The police say he’s dangerously obsessed with me, but I’m the one who can’t stop thinking about him. Maybe it’s wrong to let him touch me. Maybe it’s wrong to touch him back. Maybe these twisted dates need to stop. Except he feels like the only real thing in my world of designer labels and mansions.

So I drive us under threat, until it’s hard to remember I don’t want to be there.

Until it’s too late to turn back.

—                         —                         —

Hostage is a loose sequel to the first Criminals & Captives book, Prisoner. However, each can be read independently of one another.

Stone is darker than Grayson (from book 1) but I found that the book was actually a bit lighter. There was more mystery and intrigue in it than in the previous one, as the gang is trying to identify a couple of the key men who ran the human trafficking ring they were trapped in as children. There is none of the on-the-run shenanigans that our first couple went through.

Hostage is a very slow burn romance. When the hero and heroine first meet, she is 16 and he is a decade older. Although intrigued in (and attracted to) each other, the physical aspect of their relationship is not explored until Brooke is an adult. During this period, they only meet a few times, months apart, as Grayson keeps track of her.

There are also a few scenes of struggle and physical restraint that made the story hawt!

There are three main points that have caused me to rate this book as four stars instead of five.

Potential Spoilers ahead!

Firstly, the idea that Brooke’s parents were able to so well hide their destitution while still living the high roller lifestyle publicly is pretty flimsy. At one point it states her mother is working double shifts in a bakery in the next town to keep up appearances in their social circle, but this would never escape notice for long, though it apparently does in the book. The family is on the edge of ruin for years while hiding it from everyone.

It is entirely possible I suppose, but I found that the level of disbelief I was asked to suspend was too much.

Secondly, the identity of Keeper was obvious to me early on.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the ending was way too easy and “light”. Everything just fell together perfectly for the characters. I wish Stone and his boys had roughed Brooke up a little bit in order to get the identity of Keeper out of her. There are tons of dark romance novels out there with interrogation scenes (my favourite is reviewed here!) and it would have been something much more real for the couple to have to work through. As it was, the ending was kinda wah-wah for me. Certainly not dark.

* * * *

xx

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter everyone!

pexels-photo-372173.jpeg

I will be back to my regularly scheduled posts on Thursday. I hope everyone has had a great weekend, whether you were celebrating something or not. Today I will have my entire family over for a meal so I am busy scrubbing and cooking, and very thankful I took some holidays for an extra long weekend!

Reading Challenge 2018

Well, we are three months gone in 2018 and I thought I would write a quick post updating on my adventure in the 2018 Reading Challenge!

I am working on both the Popsugar and Book Riot’s challenges and have definitely made more headway into the former as this point, but it is also a much longer list. I set a goal on Goodreads to read 52 books this year, which is two more than my goal for last year.

Thankfully I am staying a few books ahead of schedule right now, after a strong start in January and listening to audiobooks while I commute and perform some household chores is helping me to keep caught up.

I am lucky to be surrounded by so many avid readers, such as my co-workers, close friends and Mum.

Here are three snapshots of my progress to this point:

img_0504.jpg

img_0505.jpg

img_0507.jpg

Are you doing a reading challenge this year? What list are you working on and how are you doing?

xx

Prisoner (Criminals and Captives #1)

By the way, sorry for the lack of posts last week. I took a bit

of time off for spring break 🙂

prisoner

He seethes with raw power the first time I see him—pure menace and rippling muscles in shackles. He’s dangerous. He’s wild. He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

So I hide behind my prim glasses and my book like I always do, because I have secrets too. Then he shows up in the prison writing class I have to teach, and he blows me away with his honesty. He tells me secrets in his stories, and it’s getting harder to hide mine. I shiver when he gets too close, with only the cuffs and the bars and the guards holding him back. At night I can’t stop thinking about him in his cell.

But that’s the thing about an animal in a cage—you never know when he’ll bite. He might use you to escape. He might even pull you into a forest and hold a hand over your mouth so you can’t call for the cops. He might make you come so hard, you can’t think.

And you might crave him more than your next breath.

—                         —                         —

Prisoner is a dark romance book that begins with the heroine working as a writing teacher in a special program for prisoners. One particular prisoner makes her extremely uncomfortable – and wet – and he seems unusually fascinated with her as well.

Little does Abigail know that Grayson is playing her to send a message to his gang outside the prison walls, and that he is planning his prison escape using her as a hostage.

Abigail makes several escape attempts throughout this story so if you like a physical struggle where the hero subdues the heroine with his strength, this book just might you swoon.

I love that the authors created such a rich backstory to both characters and that there is a whole world that was created. It added much more depth and realism to a story compared to a romance that takes place within a vacuum.

Although this book was co-authored by two women, it flows seamlessly, without my being able to point out who wrote what section. They truly work well together and I am glad that there is another book to read after this!

The main drawback that I experienced with this story was that the level of corruption seemed too over the top. It seemed that no one was removed and that any new character you came across could be bought or manipulated. This is a plot device that I have hated since I was a small child reading about princesses dealing with court politics and I don’t like it anymore now. Otherwise, I would have rated it five stars.

* * * *

xx

Shield (Greenstone Security #2)

36562699

My name’s Rosie and I come from a dynasty of sorts… the Sons of Templar, maybe you’ve heard of them.

I just happen to be the daughter of one of the founding members and am the sister of the current president.

The fact I’m a woman means I don’t wear the patch, but it’ll never change the fact that I’m a Templar by blood.

We’re known as royalty in the outlaw world. Though, the dynasty is dancing on the right side of the law these days.

That doesn’t mean that the law and those who enforce it are friends.
It will remain the one constant in my tumultuous life. The one rule in our law-free existence.

Befriending the law and those that enforce it is a betrayal.

Which means me being one half of a doomed love is that much more comical when he’s a cop.

Or was.

Before I went and ruined it all.

Before he shattered that shield he wore to protect society in order to protect me.

He saved me and I damned him.

I damned myself too, but to be honest, I was damned long before that.

—                         —                         —

This book was NOT for me. I feel like it is a complete departure from the Rosie character that we have known for years. She is essentially a serial killer, even if she only goes after bad guys. She is more than a little crazy – seriously off the rails. I also hate that Luke seemingly gave up everything that he was working to become in order to be with Rosie. It seemed like he was sacrificing his character and morals and also like previous depictions of him are disingenuous.

The author’s writing style in this book is extremely wordy, which is a trend I have complained about in my other reviews of her recent books. I went back and re-read her first book Making the Cut to see if she always wrote like this or if I am becoming more sensitive to it, but I still enjoy her earlier works, so I definitely feel like her writing style has just evolved in a direction I don’t enjoy.

I may or may not be checking out future books from this author, but it won’t be in this series that is for sure. I think I will wait for her books to be available on Kindle Unlimited in the future.

* *

xx

The Alice Network (Kate Quinn)

32051912

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.

—                         —                         —

The Alice Network has become my favourite book of the year so far. I couldn’t stop listening to it. And I have already started trying to pimp it out to all my friends and family.

It was very interesting to learn more about the spy networks operating during WWI; this isn’t a subject matter that we touched upon when I was in school, mostly focusing on either the trenches or the homefront during the Great War, and then spending the majority of the semester on the Second World War. I had to keep reminding myself that this takes place during 1915. Thinking of how different times were back then … women didn’t even have the right to vote yet, so it is absolutely remarkable that there were real-life female spies operating throughout Europe.

The pace of this story is excellent. Detailed but quick and there were never any parts I felt like skipping ahead through due to boredom. The narrator, Saskia Maarleveld, did an amazing job. The characters were all very real to me, which led to heartbreak at times.

I know that The Alice Network has been a bestseller since its release in 2017, and there continues to be a long wait list at my library. It is also a book that has been covered in numerous book clubs and I can see why.

If you haven’t read this book yet, I strongly encourage you to do so ASAP. Push it to the top of your TBR list. I have heard from fans of Kate Quinn that this isn’t even her best book so I will definitely be listening to her others in the near future.

* * * * *

xx